A number of Britain's leading cathedrals have released their much-anticipated plans for hosting Easter services at a time when no one is allowed to gather physically at church.
It is unchartered territory for the country's clergy, who are used to pulling out all the stops for perhaps the most significant weekend on the Church's calendar. Now, with the coronavirus lockdown in full swing, Christian leaders are having to think creatively about how to host virtual gatherings that are impactful, reflective, and also good fun!
St Edmundsbury Cathedral has invited people to Come and Sing "Stainer’s Crucifixion" virtually together on Good Friday, and will be running traditional Holy Week and Easter services digitally.
The Dean of Edmundsbury, the Very Revd Joe Hawes, said: “It is during this difficult period, that we have to find a new way of being a church - worshipping online, through live-streamed videos on our Facebook page; pastoral care given over the phone; a bank of daily, uplifting music recitals, which our musicians recorded before the building's closure - all evidence that, despite the empty offices, pews and pulpit, we as a church, are still here.”
In Lichfield, Artist in Residence Peter Walker has created a different photographic image for every day of Holy Week using the front of this medieval three spired Gothic cathedral as his canvas. Walker's images will be shared on Lichfield cathedral’s social media every day for people to peruse and reflect on from their own homes.
Exeter Cathedral is taking a slightly more lighthearted route - by hosting a virtual egg hunt. "You may not be able to come and enjoy our usual Easter Egg Hunt around the Cathedral this year - but try our Virtual Egg Spotting Hunt instead," reads the game's description on the cathedral website. "Zoom in to each picture and see how many eggs you can see hiding".
It adds: "The keen-eyed amongst you will get it eggxactly right!"
In the latest updated advice from the Church of England regarding coronavirus, it has been confirmed that church buildings are "now closed for public worship, private prayer and all other meetings and activities except for vital community services until further notice."
"Sadly there can be no weddings in church buildings until further notice," reads part of the FAQ's, adding that "funerals may now only happen at the Crematorium or at the graveside."
"By closing church buildings we make a difficult but important decision - mindful of the vital need to listen to the message: stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives," the CofE said on Twitter Wednesday morning.
Justin Welby said in a video address Wednesday: "There's been a lot of comment both publicly and privately about the closure of church buildings and all sorts of strange ideas about why the Bishops and Archbishops. They range from conspiracy ideas that we've already really wanted to, through to comments about obsession with health and safety."
Welby said that there were five reasons why the leaders felt it was imperative that the churches should be closed immediately:
1. To set an example and listen to government advice: "Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives."
2. The church is the people, not the building. We must go back to what the early church did, and meet in homes. "Virtually gathered does very well indeed," Welby said. "Jesus is quite up-to-date on all this stuff.
3. "It's about sharing in the inconveniences, restrictions and isolations that have been imposed on us. It's about being part of the flock," Welby explained.
4. We are here for everyone. "You have to be available in whatever way is best," Welby urged.
5. "It's not just about us. It's about everybody. It's about being welcoming in every way we can," Welby added. "The online services are being accessed by vast numbers of people. They are a way of reaching out and saying 'we don't depend on buildings, wonderful as they are.'"